Short Cuts: Enlighten Up! | Food, Inc. | The Merry Gentleman | Sleep Dealer
There are a number of tensions at play in Kate Churchill's Enlighten Up!, a documentary about the proliferation of yoga as both spiritual path and commercial workout culture, and the vigor with which the believers will try to convert the skeptics. What's frustrating about this otherwise friendly, lightweight look at the diverse world of yoga practitioners is that its director winds up focusing on the least interesting/most predictable tension of them all, that which arises between herself and her handpicked, inflexible star. Churchill, a lithe, centered believer, recruits Nick Rosen, a bland, atheistic young journalist, to help her prove the dubious but documentary-ready premise that yoga can "transform" anyone. Churchill creates a yoga tasting menu for Nick, guiding him through various schools and varying degrees of kook-dom, and touching (too lightly) on one of the phenomenon's ironies: enlightenment for sale. The duo travels to India and, after several months, in a further American, results-oriented irony, Churchill grows impatient for her subject's big breakthrough. When a modest version of that breakthrough arrives, you get the feeling the director wants to tell her godless charge not to choke on it. —Michelle Orange
Anyone who has read The Omnivore's Dilemma or Fast Food Nation will experience a strong sense of déjà vu as the film Food, Inc. unfolds. That's because many of the case studies used in this dark look at food production came from those books. Indeed, authors Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser appear throughout the film as talking heads, their placid and jovial manner sometimes undercutting the shocking nature of the material presented. There's nothing jovial about the mother whose 2-year-old child dies just days after eating an E. coli-tainted burger. Other tragedies are not as explicit. We meet an Indiana gleaner pursuing the age-old career of scavenging seeds from agricultural detritus, so the farmers can plant them the next year. And then we see chemical giant Monsanto hectoring him until his business goes bust. In between are aerial shots of fields and feed lots, giving the film a pastoral feel, even though one of director Robert Kenner's central points is that our romanticization of farming prevents us from seeing how it has become a malevolent corporate venture. —Robert Sietsema
The Merry Gentleman
Part of the likable routine Michael Keaton brought to his roles in the '80s was patter—sometimes manic, sometimes balky. In The Merry Gentleman, he might be overdoing the walkback: As grizzled Chicago hit man Frank Logan, Keaton lurks under a newsboy cap and speaks sparingly, often with a stagey self-interrupting cough (another tic). Frank is the mysterious stranger who helps mousy new-in-towner Kate (Kelly Macdonald) with her Christmas tree. This triggers an hour's worth of diffident dramatic irony involving his occupation, a persistent cop (Tom Bastounes) investigating a sniper murder near where Kate works, and a possible abusive ex in her past. Keaton, who took over directing duties from ill-stricken screenwriter Ron Lazzeretti before shooting started, inherited a stock-still story of two lonely souls and never develops their rapport. Macdonald is approachably appealing as ever, but demurely sheds little insight on a character that needs some. Keaton's directorial debut is by no means the most embarrassing in the past few years, but the repetitive material hobbles the actor's energies. —Nicolas Rapold
Science fiction easily lends itself to allegory, but while the dystopian near-future of co-writer/director Alex Rivera's feature debut focuses, admirably, on how globalization affects the third world, his ideas are as subtle as a light saber to the face. From a tiny Oaxacan village whose water supply is owned by a greedy multinational corp, amateur hacker Memo (Luis Fernando Peña) leaves his peasant family to make a better living in Tijuana, now a thriving metropolis. How? Well, since the United States has sealed itself off entirely from Mexico, south-of-the-border sweatshop workers with surgically implanted nodes jack into El Matrix and remotely control robots in America. Side plot: Unbeknownst to Memo, his new hottie journo friend (Leonor Varela) is pre-selling her downloadable memories to content buyers online, which, if you remove the eXistenZ bio-port nonsense, may be the single most prescient concept herein. Considering a Spanish-language film of this kind would never get a studio budget, its resourceful special effects actually aid the narrative. But from the imperialist villains and their humanitarian abuses to the laborers dying on their feet, what's so clever about tricking out this worn-out tale of woe into a genre flick? —Aaron Hillis
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.